No one could have predicted this.
At first, 2020 was shaping up to be a relatively normal year. Cities were bustling with life, adults were rushing off to work every day, children were dashing off to school. People hung out, went to the movies together, traveled, and the “scariest” thing spreading around were the jokes and memes about getting drafted into World War 3.
Now, roughly half a year later, that life is all but forgotten. Everything “nonessential” has been shut down in many states, schools and businesses have gone virtual, and popular tourist destinations like Times Square (which is normally overflowing with people) are empty.
Most significant, however, is the division in the country. For years, this nation has been slowly growing further and further apart, with people in both major political parties becoming more polarized. COVID-19 has brought disunity out of the shadows and into the news. And nowhere has there been a more prominent example of this than the argument over pandemic-caused regulations.
As COVID-19 cases in the United States approach 6 million (CDC COVID Data Tracker), there are many people who are upset with the policies imposed by state governments trying to combat the virus, and it isn’t hard to see why. The Coronavirus Recession (the economic downturn that has occurred because of the spread of the virus) is expected to cause the global economy to shrink by 5.2% by the end of this year, according to the World Bank. This not only heavily affects many small businesses all over America, but also huge commercial enterprises like the gambling industry in Las Vegas, which is dependent on high amounts of tourism. Furthermore, a survey by the Commonwealth Fund has found that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated mental health issues in America (and all over the world) because of the economic problems and loneliness associated with it.
However, interestingly, the policies that have garnered the most criticism are the rules enforcing mask-wearing. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), mask-wearing is important because it “may help prevent people who have COVID-19 from spreading the virus to others […] especially when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.” Because of this warning, 34 states so far (including California) have mandated wearing masks in public settings. Furthermore, most national retail chains (like Walmart, Costco, CVS, and Target) have enacted No Mask, No Service policies. On August 15th, Dr. Deborah Birx, the Coronavirus Response Coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force since February, said in a public statement that, “all communities, whether you are urban or rural communities, [need to] to really wear a mask inside, outside, every day.”
There are many average Americans who view mask mandates as absolutely necessary, saying that the laws set in place need to be strictly followed. For Laura Gold, a California resident, mask wearing is not only important health-wise, but is also a symbolic gesture. “Masks are a way of saying ‘I see you. Your life matters,’” she asserts.
Despite this, throughout the last couple of months, small groups of people who feel that mask mandates are unconstitutional have organized protests and spoken out against it, saying it infringes on their rights and freedom, or that it is nothing more than fear mongering. In an article written by BBC reporter Tara McKelvey, Susan Wiles (a Florida resident who refuses to wear a mask) said, “Sure there’s a virus. But people die of the flu every year,” claiming, “it’s not what they say it is.”
There are also many more people who have moderate views on the subject. One such person is Jon Koenig, another California resident, who shared his thoughts, saying that he is not against wearing masks when necessary, but also asserting that “each individual has to assess their particular risk factor and take necessary precautions.” He talked about how some people are more susceptible to the virus, adding, “A blanket law saying everyone must wear a mask when leaving their homes does not make scientific or rational sense to me. It feels like an order of this nature is a knee jerk reaction rather than a well thought out mandate.”
One of the most alarming things about the last few months is that the virus has become a political issue. Proof of this comes from a poll taken by the Pew Research Center, which shows that Democrats are more likely than Republicans to wear face masks. It has become about being right and not about listening to others, or about compromising. America is a very large country, full of many different people with many different experiences and viewpoints. This isn’t something to be upset about; this is something to celebrate. Thinking through policies and issues is important if we are to develop as a country, and the only way to do that is to encourage the discussion of ideas and the formation of individual thought.